The thrilling saga returns with crowd-pleasing character reveals and a fitting farewell

By Kara Warner
Updated December 18, 2017 10:38 AM

“Darkness rises, and light to meet it,” warns evil supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It’s a fitting summary of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

When Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) says, “This is not going to go the way you think,” believe him. There is a sequence in The Last Jedi that is so jaw-droppingly satisfying, fans will forever remember the moment they first saw it. There are also well-placed moments of levity that offer laugh-out-loud relief from all the casualties of the long-standing war, like Chewbacca’s chance encounter with the film’s most adorable and cuddly new creatures, the porgs.

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The latest installment of the beloved franchise picks up right where 2015’s The Force Awakens left off: in the midst of a battle between good and evil.

Under direction from General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads members of The Resistance in a dazzling space combat sequence against Snoke, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the rest of the First Order in an effort to gain much-needed ground in their ongoing war. When the attack takes a lethal turn, Dameron must resort to even riskier acts of rebellion with help from Finn (John Boyega) and plucky newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who embark on a mission to disable a major source of the Order’s firepower. Their journey takes them to a brand new corner of the galaxy – the wealthy arms-dealing planet Canto Bight – where a mysterious but resourceful stranger DJ (Benicio del Toro) provides their only option for potential success.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi
| Credit: Jonathan Olley/© 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Elsewhere in the galaxy on a small island far far away, Rey (Daisy Ridley) looks to reluctant and reclusive Jedi Master Luke Skywalker for apprenticeship in the ways of the Force, desperately hoping to gain insight into her past and the skills she roused in The Force Awakens. Along the way, her search for truth reveals a startling connection to Luke’s patricidal former pupil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Her growing strength also forces her Master to reveal a long-kept secret about what really pushed Han Solo and Leia’s son to the Dark side.

Writer/director Rian Johnson’s entry into the Star Wars canon is rebelliously bold at times and full of rousing surprises, which make up for a few lulls in the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour run time. And the film’s foundation is built firmly on the franchise’s strong (and timely) message of optimistic resilience, which always keeps us coming back for more.

RELATED: Why Mark Hamill Was Shocked by Star Wars: The Force Awakens – but Got Over It

Ridley’s Rey and Driver’s Kylo Ren leave lasting impressions here, particularly when looking ahead to what might happen in Episode IX. Franchise newcomer Laura Dern also enjoys an important scene-stealing moment as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.

However nothing tops the nostalgic high delivered by the moving performances from Luke and Leia’s Hamill and Fisher, made all the more memorable knowing it’s the late actress’s final, fitting bow in the role.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters Dec. 15.